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The Hatikvah affair: This is what a Jewish state looks like

The storm about Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran’s refusal to sing the national anthem shows us just what a ‘Jewish State’ means.

A political storm broke out last week, when it turned out Supreme Justice Salim Joubran declines to sing the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah” (The Hope). Many Jewish Brotherhood MKs suffered from an unusually farcical attack of national erection. This was indeed another occasion to note that there is no practical (or even ideological) difference between Kahane’s representative in the Knesset, Michael Ben Ari, or Yisrael Beitenu’s David Rotem, or the Likud’s Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin. But that is not the main issue; neither is the fact that the Jewish Brotherhood’s attack on Joubran means they think that most of the Jewish population agrees with them on this point.

The issue is the single demand made by Netanyahu to the Palestinians recently: that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Joubran brouhaha is precisely the reasons they cannot accept this demand. A Jewish state is a state, which – inherently by its very existence and by its very declaration as such – discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens. It is a state, which, by its very definition, says they do not belong, that they are unequal and never will be equal, that they are nothing but temporary guests who exist at the sufferance of the Jewish majority. A Jewish state is one that proclaims itself to contain two types of populations, separate and not at all equal.

It would be herrenvolk state, where the will of the majority wouldn’t be just that the minority make it tea (as a famous Israeli song notes ironically) but that it should kowtow as it serves it. This would be a state where people would be ordered to sing, in a broken voice and a trampled soul, “The Jewish soul is moved,” so that day by day and hour by hour, they would be forced to remember their home is not their home. As of now, the Jewish Brotherhood targets justices; soon enough it will target school principals, physicians, advocates – anyone whose head is held too high. Therefore, it is clear that Abbas or any other self-respecting Palestinian leader cannot acquiesce to Netanyahu’s demand: doing so would be selling the rights of Israeli Palestinians down the river, something no one has authorized him to do. This, of course, is precisely why he presses for that demand.

This has happened before. Most Israelis have forgotten 1949-1966, when Israeli Palestinians were under military rule; most American Jews were never aware of it. Under this rule, Zionist Israel carried out a huge land grab – legal, of course; there is no villainy which state attorneys will not commit – which deprived the Nakba-surviving Palestinians of most of their lands. Policemen and secret policemen were on the hunt for any hostile utterance, any unpleasant wedding song, and Palestinian leaders had to learn “Hatikvah” by heart to maintain their position. We are no longer in the 1950s and 1960s, thankfully, but there are people who would like to take us back there.

As usual, one should be thankful for Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin for trying to save the dignity of the Knesset and of the Likud party. One should also thank, through gritted teeth, Bogie “Moshe” Ya’alon, who defended Joubran against his own home crowd, which takes courage anytime, but particularly these days. Both of them went on record saying that Israeli non-Jews cannot be expected to sing Israel’s anthem.

This unfortunately is not enough. In this way, they accept the concept of Israeli Palestinians as a tolerated minority, since we can’t demand it pretend to be Jewish. But that should not be the case: a country with a large minority should learn to accommodate it. Former state comptroller and supreme court justice Miryam Ben Porat, who came from a Revisionist home, had no qualms about suggesting some 20 years ago that “Hatikvah” be amended and a new stanza added, and that a new symbol be added to the flag so that non-Jews could also relate to an anthem and flag that, after all, are supposed to represent them as well. There have been other suggestions, like replacing “Hatikvah” with Shaul Tchernichovsky “Ani Ma’amin” (“I Believe”):

Mock me, mock my dreams of glory
It is I who dreams, still bowed,
Mock my faith in all things human
As in you my faith stands, proud.

Yet my spirit still craves freedom
Not sold out to calves of gold
I still believe in all things human,
Human spirit, spirit bold.

(Translated by Dena Shunra)

This did not happen and is not likely to happen soon. This is where we see the importance of civics lessons in schools: the right wing has been sabotaging them for a generation now, claiming they neglect the Jewish aspect of the state. But that, after all, is precisely the point of lessons in civics: to build the supra-religious, supra-ethnic, supra-tribal infrastructure that will create a civic consciousness, for Jews and non-Jews alone. The sabotage was not incidental.

The right wing does not want a civil state: it is looking for an ethnocratic theocracy. And not just the right wing: Yair Lapid, the most accurate barometer of the precise center of Israeli politics, recently wrote he opposes the separation of synagogue and state. Even he understands such a move will undermine the ethnocracy – and he chooses it over a liberal Israel.

There will be no reconciliation in this tortured land, if the country is considered first and foremost Jewish. This would mean a total victory for the Jewish nationalists and would significantly damage (and justly so) Israel Palestinians’ ability to identify with Israel. This ability is surprisingly strong, given the country’s history.

One is led to thinking that the mass hysteria of the past 20 years, the overpowering urge to emphasis Israel’s Jewishness, is the result of a deep fear among central parts of the Jewish population that if this is not achieved, then there will be no escape from living aside Israeli Palestinians. This, in turn, leads to the worst of Jewish fears: the loss of blood purity (AKA “assimilation”). This shouted insistence on Israel’s Jewishness is in some ways tactical: it says to Israeli Palestinians “go away, no matter how hard you try to be Israelis, Israel will never be yours. Keep away from us: you’re getting too close and it’s making us scared.”

 And how do you treat a whole population driving itself into post traumatic stress disorder? This is not a question I’m sure I can answer.

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    1. Jazzy

      I wonder whether Yossi ever tires of writing the same Israeli symbols = Nazism piece over and over and over again. Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Turkey? Christians in Egypt? Most people, unlike Yossi, have not decided to obsess and obsess and obsess until all sense of proportion is lost. They look at the region, at the crescents and the crosses and the Arabism and Islamism and laugh at nonsense like this.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      “A broken voice and a trampled soul”? “This tortured land”? “A Herrenvolk state”? “Nothing but temporary guests”? Well, OK, whatever.
      Isn’t there a teensy bit of space on the spectrum between the paradise on earth of a non-ethnic state and the hell of an eliminationist, racial-supremacist Jewish police state? Maybe *some* room in between absolute Good (our side) and absolute Evil (their side)? It’s possible to have a nation-state (“ethnostate”) where national minorities are given individual rights and treated with respect. That means, for instance, not being expected to sing the national anthem. (Note well, that’s the *national* anthem, not the state anthem.) The author even painfully admitted that there are such voices of respect here. Maybe a little perspective?
      By the way, I don’t sing Hatikvah either. I never bothered to learn the words.

      Reply to Comment
    3. I am happy that I do NOT know much about the Nazi period. Thus, I can imagine that the government ordered the Jews to say how happy they were to live in a Nazi Aryan State. I have read, as many have read, that on occasion some Jews were required to do some things — and to eat some stuff — that were (to say the least) hard to mouth (or stomach).
      The idea that the people of Israel who (to a large extent) base their NEED (and, they say, their RIGHT) to a Jewish-majority State upon the cruelties which non-Jews often inflicted on Jews and as to which they often say NEVER AGAIN — would do anything similar to anyone else is (to say the least) jaw-dropping.
      Triumphalism is bad enough, but racist triumphalism seems so un-Jewish to my (undoubtedly liberally misled) post-Holocaust sensibilities, that I cringe to read this essay.
      I hope that one day, all Jews will cringe to read such things. The idea that Israeli Jews want to make Israel into — essentially — a Jewish Ghetto, w2ith perhaps a few Shabbas Goyim left (and constantly humiliated) is monstrous.
      The once-aspiring “light unto the nations” wishes to retreat inside a dense and impermeable shell. Perhaps they will succeed and — if only they would be content to stay there and not bother anyone outside — the rest of the world will say “good riddance” and forget about them.
      But even this hope seems unlikely of success. Today Israel threatens Iran (if only to screen its depredations in the OPTs). For 44 years it has reached out to control the USA. Tomorrow the moon?

      Reply to Comment
    4. directrob

      “huge land grab – legal, of course”
      Only legal for Israeli “law”. If ever justice comes in the and some people will go broke instantly.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jazzy

      I think there’s a better case for changing the American national anthem. Why should we expect black people to sing about the glory of the flag during a war between a slave-trading America and the slave-trading British Empire? And why should British Muslims be expected to praise the Queen, whose family colonized great swaths of the Muslim World?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Joe

      Jazzy – so to be clear, you’re happy to live in a country where the public pressure is for people to be forced to do something they don’t actually believe in..?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Jazzy

      JOE: Yes, I am – that pretty much describes every country in the western world.

      Reply to Comment
    8. I’ve been reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower dealing with the Western world between 1880 and 1914, well before National Socialism.

      The Germans of the period, convinced beyond all doubt that they were the superior people of the world, were not content with the feeling. It was important to them and their Kaiser that the rest of the world acknowledge it openly and also that it be known that German Jews had nothing to do with German greatness. Of course within Germany it was the Prussians who were tops for arrogance and saw themselves above other Germans.

      As has been said by many, there is great irony in a country that says it is a refuge for Jews to take the same attitude as those who oppressed them.

      The strutting and demands that Netanyahu likes, the pride in armed force and weaponry, the continual call for the Palestinians to say Israel has a right to exist, when such would be the ultimate in humiliation for a wronged people, all have the same sound of turn of the 20th century (and later) Germany demanding its “place in the sun”

      But this anachronistic storyline has no future and every attempt to force it only increases the revulsion of the world.

      One Israel for all the people of Palestine is inevitable.

      Reply to Comment
    9. William Burns

      I wonder if Jazzy ever tires of writing the same “Israel doesn’t suck any worse than any other country in the world” comment many, many times per week.

      Reply to Comment
    10. sh

      Thinking about it, the anthem had the same sell-by date as Zionism itself. We became an am hofshi (a free people) when the state was founded. Instead of the nefesh Yehudi (Jewish soul) finding tranquility and freeing itself up for meeting the challenge of newly-Israeli nefashot (both willing and accidental) learning to get along with each other, HaTikva went on hoping for the same things it tells us Jews had been yearning for for 2,000.
      An anthem should be a big tent within which all citizens find a space.

      Reply to Comment
    11. sh

      2,000 years, that is.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Jazzy

      William Burns: I really don’t. Since there is an entire community of hacks who make a living the repeating the Israel dystopia crap, I wish there were more people like me who stuck around to explain their foolishness.

      Reply to Comment
    13. aristeides

      I have never noticed a shortage of Zionist trolls in the world.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Bill Pearlman

      You can always tell an anti-Israel rant when they go with the “Jews are the new Nazis rag”. Its like a song. Nice job Yossi.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Jazzy

      Nothing says “I’m really NOT a closet Jew hater dripping with contempt” more than the phrase “Zionist trolls” – oh yes, please, give us the Jew/Zionist dichotomy explanation. That has always been so persuasive…

      Reply to Comment
    16. Piotr Berman


      an alternative solution is to change the tune of the anthem. Something so difficult to sing that on solemn occasions professional singers would be asked to perform. At least, this is what they do in USA.

      But this is often a female performer. Is there any way of avoiding singing troubles in Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    17. sh

      Piotr, there is a way of avoiding singing troubles in Israel. It chooses an anthem with words not understood by a majority of those it represents that is so difficult to sing that it sounds dire even when sung by professionals and that can most successfully be handled as a solo by a bass. Beethoven’s An die Freude-Ode to Joy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZJ1Tgf4JL8 springs to mind. Only problem is the European Union has already nabbed it.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Raffaele Ladu

      Dear SH,

      there is a Yiddish version of the “Ode to Joy”, named “Ale mentshn zaynen brider”.

      Why not choose it over HaTiqwah?

      Reply to Comment
    19. Joe

      I’m fairly sure there is not compulsion to sing the British national anthem in the UK. In fact I know so, given that I’ve been to numerous official functions and sports games where the majority of participants refuse to sing it.

      Reply to Comment
    20. aristeides

      Nothing is more common in Zionist trolls than calling antisemitism on people who point out the disruptive behavior of Zionist trolls.
      It also doesn’t work, as people are on to their tricks.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Michael W.

      Yossi, I see you deleted one of Bill’s comments. Not surprised. But can you please write about your views of Mondoweiss? Do you believe that site is like 972? What do other 972 writers think of Mondoweiss?

      Reply to Comment
    22. Michael W.

      Maybe one 972 writer should interview Phil Weiss.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Jazzy

      JOE: Well, nobody in Israel is required to sing it either, as this episode demonstrates. So requirements aren’t really the issue. But even if it were the issue, the American anthem is imposed upon primary school children across the whole country.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Jazzy

      What a Jewish state looks like: an Arab public figure refuses to sing a Jewish anthem, and some right wing assholes get upset, and nothing happens after that. Wow – BRUTAL, MAN.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Michael, that comment was libelous and hateful and therefore removed. I don’t read Mondoweiss often enough to fashion a considered opinion. As a rule, I like what the authors write and abhor the comments.

      Reply to Comment
    26. aristeides

      Yossi – do you likewise abhor the comments at this site? Or, if not, what difference do you see?

      Reply to Comment
    27. Jazzy

      I think the contributors at +972 need to watch an informational video on the definition of “libel”, because its a frequently abused term here.

      Reply to Comment
    28. And I think, Jazzy, that reporters should be granted the privilege of the assumption that they know what libel is in their own jurisdictions.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Bill Pearlman

      If Rommel breaks through at El Alamein and gets over the Suez to the gulf oil fields he gets that resource and wipes out the Jews of the Yishuv. And I defy anyone to read mondoweiss. Phil, his staff, his fans, and come away with any other conclusion that to to them that would have been the better outcome then the establishment of Israel. And I stand by that.

      Reply to Comment
    30. Jazzy

      Yossi: I get the sense that if “libel” were defined as expansively under Israeli law as it is on +972, the Israeli court system would implode. But since I am ignorant of the Israeli definition, I would welcome an educational link (translated or not)

      Reply to Comment
    31. Noam W

      Here you go Jazzy:


      I will translate the first provision for you:
      Libel is a publication that may:
      1. Demean a person in the eyes of other people or make him [Hebrew statutes are all in masculine form NW] a target for ridicule or contempt.

      Of course understanding any tort requires understanding the exceptions and defenses but I am not going to translate the entire thing.

      Reply to Comment
    32. Piotr Berman

      Polish definition adds “to deprive of public regard needed to perform their [persons, institutions] function or profession.”

      In the meantime, Phil of Mondoweiss taped an interview of Yossi, who is thus a Newsworthy Person. Sadly, as usual, comments at Mondoweiss show neither taste nor common sense:

      Wow, man, Gurvitz is a force.

      Fabulous interview,

      When I see good people like Gurvitz…

      Gurvitz has great candor, and a seemingly keen insight.

      this is an incredible interview with an incredible man. thank you very very much.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Jazzy

      Noam W: Thanks for that. Without going into exceptions or defenses, can you tell me whether Israeli law requires that the statement be one of FACT? What I tend to see on +972 is that a reader will offer a negative OPINION (e.g. so and so is an anti-semite) and then will be accused of libel, when it my understanding that the statement must include a factual statement (e.g. so and so beats his kids).

      Reply to Comment
    34. sh

      @Raffaele Ladu – “there is a Yiddish version of the “Ode to Joy”, named “Ale mentshn zaynen brider”. Why not choose it over HaTiqwah?”
      That would certainly meet my requirement for a text not understood by a majority, Raffaele, and I suppose one could stipulate only bass voices to be certain that no female singers sully holy ears (clause: no octave-jumping permitted); on the other hand, that doesn’t solve the Lieberman issue. You see, the inherent irony in one who murders the anthem thus http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150815026075324 or if you can’t access that, thus
      berating someone who, for whatever reason, preferred to discreetly abstain, is yet another feature of Israel’s burlesque current political scene; one of the less harmful features at that, but that’s another story.
      The danger is that Yvet’s disparaging remarks about Joubran may well herald yet another draft law. Which is why someone had better get in there first and draft one permitting people to desist from singing the anthem on humanitarian grounds. This would in one fell swoop add a little shine to our democratic image, allow Joubran and whoever else to remain silent, and rescue the rest of us from suffering Excruciating Auditory Aggression à la Lieberman at public ceremonies.
      But wouldn’t it be a) more fun than worrying about Iran and b) less destructive than killing 14 people in Gaza in 2 days, to hold a competition amongst all Israel’s citizens for an original new anthem?

      Reply to Comment
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